The Iowa Hawkeyes and Illinois Illini didn’t disappoint in what was expected to be a competitive battle between two teams searching for their first conference win of the season.
An extra five minutes was needed to decide the outcome of this one. However, no one in Assembly Hall would have believed that this game would go to overtime after seeing Illinois’ impressive first half performance.
The Illini came out firing on all cylinders and built a 49-29 lead with 3:53 left in the first half. But, from then on, it was essentially all Hawkeyes. Iowa chipped away at Illinois’ lead in the closing minutes of the first half, cutting the deficit to 13 at the break thanks to a momentum shifting 12-5 run.
Iowa’s foot never left the gas in the second half. The Hawkeyes continued to cut into the once large deficit and actually built a five-point lead with only 1:44 remaining. It seemed that Illinois had nothing left in the tank at that point. However, Trent Frazier didn’t gave in.
Frazier knocked down a runner from the elbow with time expiring in regulation to send the game to overtime and give Illinois a chance at avoiding a devastating collapse.
Often times the team that ties a game in order to force overtime carries that momentum into overtime. But, this couldn’t have been less of the case for the Illini. Luke Garza and the Hawkeyes began overtime on a 10-0 run to put the game on ice. Illinois was unable to find the bottom of the net until the 1:06 mark in the extra period.
Let’s have a look at what we can takeaway from Iowa’s signature comeback and Illinois’ catastrophic loss.
What We Learned:
1. Young Hawkeyes Are Getting Better and Better
For a team as young and inexperienced as Iowa, it’s not surprising that it took six tries to earn a victory in a conference as competitive as the Big Ten.
There really might not be any other team in the country that can use youth as an excuse to the extent that the Hawkeyes can. I mean Iowa’s seven leading scorers are made up of all sophomores and freshmen.
The end results of this season most likely won’t be anything Fran McCaffery is proud of. But, the way in which his young group of players have progressed is extremely encouraging for the near future.
Tonight, more than any, indicates that Iowa’s young core has loads of potential. Iowa’s four leading scorers put on a show against Illinois and all either matched their season average in scoring or eclipsed it.
Sophomore guard Jordan Bohannon was averaging 12.1 points per game this season before tonight. Bohannon dropped 29 against Illinois and tied a season-high in threes with five. Sophomore forward Tyler Cook scored 21 points and collected a career-high 13 rebounds for his second double-double of the season.
Freshman forward Luka Garza also earned a double-double with a 19-point, 11-rebound performance. Garza has already picked up three double-doubles this season. Sophomore guard Isaiah Moss also chipped in with 12 points.
Don’t worry Iowa fans, all you need is a little more patience with this young squad.
Illinois May be the Worst in the Big Ten in Terms of Closing Games Out
An 0-5 start to Big Ten play by the Illini was not anticipated by many. The even more frustrating thing for Illinois fans is the fact that the Illini really could have won all five of those games.
We already know about the huge lead Illinois held against Iowa tonight. But, this is already the third overtime contest the Illini have dropped in Big Ten play this season. The other two defeats were each only by 10 points as well.
The close losses extends to more than Big Ten play too. Illinois lost to Wake Forest by seven, UNLV by seven, and New Mexico State by five earlier in the season. I would mention more games but that sums up every one of Illinois’ losses. Yeah, all eight of their defeats have pretty much been in nail-biting fashion
If the Illini could come up clutch more often in the last four or five minutes of games, it’s weird to say, but they really could be undefeated!
Consistent Shooting is a Major Issue for the Illini
A major reason why Illinois has struggled to finish games is it simply doesn’t have enough players that can be relied on in terms of knocking down a big shot, or any shot for that matter.
The Illini’s team field goal percentage of 43.9 ranks only 11th in the Big Ten. Similarly, Illinois’ 44 percent three-point shooting is only better than Indiana and Wisconsin.
Don’t get me wrong, Leron Black has been great thus far. But, when he is hot and getting double teamed, there just aren’t many other players on Illinois that can be trusted to shoot the ball.
Michael Finke and Aaron Jordan have been solid shooting the ball, each have converted on over 49 percent of their field goal attempts this season. But, neither of the two have been even close to consistent this season. Finke has scored a combined 13 points in the Illini’s last three games and has shot only 26 percent from the floor in that span.
Jordan actually went off against the Hawkeyes and scored 18 points. Still, he has been extremely inconsistent. Before tonight, Jordan was averaging just 4.2 points over his last five games.
Illinois has more than proven that it can compete with the majority of Big Ten teams. But, competing is only half of the battle. The Illini are going to need to pick up a victory in the near future to have the deserved amount of respect from Big Ten opponents.
Iowa’s win over the Illini would have been a momentum-building one regardless of how the game played out. But, considering it battled back from 20 points down, the Hawkeyes couldn’t have asked for anything better.
It’s not as if this win is going to turn Iowa’s season around, but the Hawkeyes are going to keep showing flashes of why the future is bright in Iowa City.